Rethinking the death penalty

I’m taking tomorrow off to focus on a video project, but in the meantime, here’s a big one to throw out there. I’m rethinking my stance on the death penalty.

Though the issue is hugely polarizing in American politics, I don’t remember discussing it much with friends or colleagues. I have, however, discussed it quite a bit with my wife. I’ve always thought that in certain cases, the death penalty was appropriate. She is proud of Portugal’s early repudiation of the policy and finds modern day executions to be a sign of a barbaric government. It’s one of the very few issues that we’ve really disagreed on.

But lately I find my defense of it withering in light of the ugly reality. When the audience of a Republican political debate wildly cheers the mere mention of a candidate presiding over 234 executions, something is very wrong.

In that linked video, Texas Governor Rick Perry is asked if he loses any sleep at night over the possibility that some of those 234 executed individuals might have been innocent. He answers, “Never.”

One execution that should have given Perry at least a little niggle of concern was Cameron Todd Willingham, put to death in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three children. Before his execution, a nationally recognized arson expert said that Willingham’s conviction was based on erroneous forensic analysis. His report was sent to state officials, who did not act on it. Perry refused to sign a stay of execution, and it went on as scheduled.

The story didn’t die with Willingham, however, and a five-person panel of the nation’s leading arson experts concluded that in fact none of the scientific analysis used to convict Willingham was valid. The Texas Forensic Science Commission investigated, and didn’t like what it saw. It especially didn’t like the report it received from its hired arson expert, who said that not only had the expert witnesses at Willingham’s trial been wrong, but they should have known they were wrong at the time. In fact, there had been no arson.

That’s when the politicking came in. The commission scheduled a hearing in mid-2009 to formally hear the testimony of this expert. Two days before it was to take place, the chair of the commission and three other members were replaced by Governor Rick Perry. The new chair immediately canceled the hearing and redirected the scope of the investigation.

When you’re contemplating a run for US president, you don’t want minor little issues like a wrongful execution to cloud your message. But I’m not sure Perry should even be that concerned, given one supporter’s response: “It takes balls to kill an innocent man,” he said.

That is such a perversion of the death penalty — who cares if some guy is innocent, what matters is the macho swagger of killing him anyway — that I was honestly stopped in my tracks upon reading it. From that moment on, I’ve been doing research and thinking hard. And in the middle of all this, Troy Davis was executed.

Davis is another man whose conviction has been thrown into doubt. Accused of killing a police officer, his conviction was based solely on witness testimony. There was zero physical evidence. Since the trial, seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him have recanted or contradicted their testimony. One of the two who did not was Sylvester Coles, who has now been implicated by nine witnesses as the actual shooter.

The affidavits by the witnesses who recanted (including some who did not testify at the trial) have a recurring theme: they all talk about police coercion in their questioning. Four of them did not read the statement the police told them to sign. One couldn’t, because he’s illiterate.

Unfortunately for Troy Davis, while the US principle of justice is “innocent until proven guilty,” that reverses after a conviction. Then it’s “guilty until proven innocent,” and proof is hard to come by. (Though not impossible, as demonstrated by the 17 former death row inmates whose innocence was proven by DNA evidence.) Witness statements have the power to convict, but in an appeal they’re not usually given the same weight. The time to stop a miscarriage of justice is before the conviction, not after, but forensic mistakes, inaccurate memories and testimony, incomplete investigations, prejudice, ego, and politics can all get in the way.

It’s those last three that keep circling around in my thinking. Troy Davis was a black man, living in Georgia, accused of killing a white police officer. It’s difficult to imagine that prejudice and politics were not involved in his case. Cameron Todd Willingham, on the other hand, was a white man living in Texas, but also a previously convicted criminal and apparently a wife beater. His last words before he died were a profanity-laced invective against his ex-wife. Personally I think any man who beats his wife should be thrown into a small dark room for a good long time, but we don’t kill people just because they’re reprehensible human beings. (If we did, there’d be almost no one left alive inside the Washington Beltway.) We kill them because we are convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they have committed a grievous crime.

There was reasonable doubt in both of these cases, but that didn’t seem to matter. Egos, prejudice and politics got in the way. Digging into other past cases reveals more of the same.

I formed my belief in the rightness of the death penalty when I was younger and idealistic. These days I’m better informed, more willing to do research, and much more skeptical. My belief in the death penalty doesn’t stand up to a critical review, because it was based on a concurrent belief in a justice system that didn’t make mistakes, and a political system that worked for the best interests of the citizens, not the politicians.

Those systems don’t exist. I wish they did. But in the real world with actual humans involved, the death penalty is subject to all of our failings. As such, it is inherently flawed. We cannot guarantee that we aren’t executing innocent people. And if we can’t guarantee that, then we have no business executing anyone at all.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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30 Responses to Rethinking the death penalty

  1. Ines says:

    As another portuguese, I’m extremely happy about not having death penalty in Portugal. Not only because it’s almost impossible to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that someone is guilty, but also because I don’t agree with “We kill them because we are convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they have committed a grievous crime.” Even if we are convinced, I think it may only be “plausible” in cases where people don’t feel bad about it or would repeat it whenever they could. I think some people are pushed into horrible situations and growing out of them, re-thinking life and learning new skills helps to make them better people. I kind of believe that (almost) everybody can make their nice “soul” shine through if they put some effort to it.

  2. Jbrandao says:

    it’s great to see you tick all the check boxes in your head when it comes to the death penalty. Good analysis and great final conclusion. 🙂

    The justice system has to be about 2 things: punishment and rehabilitation. If you execute someone there is obviously no rehabilitation of that particular person. Not only that, as you said, it’s always absolutely impossible to be 100% sure that the convicted individual is actually guilty. It’s always possible to release a prisoner. It’s so far, completely impossible to bring a dead person back from the dead. Not only that, but considering the crime levels in the US, and other countries with the death penalty still being enforced, I would posit the death penalty has absolutely no effect as a deterrent. Which brings us back to the rehabilitation thing, which is much more efficient (of course there are people who can’t be rehabilitated, like pedophiles, which I honestly think should be locked up not in a regular jail, but a psychiatric ward; and of course psycopaths. Those should indeed be detained forever, because no matter what, they are a danger to themselves and others).

    And then, there’s the very real, very horribly disgusting problem that is the fact that the american penal system is privatized in some part, and corporations get paid the more people they have behind bars. There was that recent case of a judge who had condemned young kids (like 10-16), first time offenders, for really really petty stupid shit, into private correctional houses. He was being paid by that company to put more people behind bars, and in the process wrecked the lives of many kids. One of them, ended up killing himself. He sentenced a high-schooler on her way to college to three months in a juvenile detention center, for having created a webpage making fun of her school’s principal. He also sentenced a 12 year old to a 2 year sentence for joy riding his mother’s car. Just… disgusting really.

    When you have a justice system this faulty, the main concern should be “how do we eliminate errors from the system?” and not “let’s get rid of all the convicted”.

    Of course, if someone killed my son, and I was left in a room with that person I probably couldn’t answer for myself, but fortunately, the justice system has evolved to a point where the investigation and conviction is not carried out by the victims or family of the victims, but a third-party, supposedly impartial.

    Nothing good ever came from a sense of revenge (I believe history has already proved it) and that’s exactly what the death penalty is.

    • oregon expat says:

      Of course, if someone killed my son, and I was left in a room with that person I probably couldn’t answer for myself, but fortunately, the justice system has evolved to a point where the investigation and conviction is not carried out by the victims or family of the victims, but a third-party, supposedly impartial.

      The first part of this statement is precisely what fueled my belief in capital punishment in recent years. If someone killed one of my loved ones, I’d be happy to slide that needle in myself (and wish I had access to a more protracted and painful method of death). But as you say, the system isn’t supposed to be about personal revenge. It’s supposed to be about impartial justice, and that’s why it fails.

      • Scout says:

        Really interesting discussion. I know the system isn’t supposed to be about personal revenge, but I think that’s what keeps the death penalty going in America. We don’t do it because it’s cheaper to execute that keep someone locked up. We do it because we think they deserve to die for their crimes. And eye for an eye. The belief that revenge is justice. I don’t believe that it is.
        There are so many perspectives on this and all the reasons that I have used to try to justify the death penalty never stand up to reason why I cannot justify it. Could I kill someone who killed a member of my family? Could I ask someone else to do it for me? The answer is always no.

    • Rina says:

      “…and of course psycopaths. Those should indeed be detained forever, because no matter what, they are a danger to themselves and others).”

      I take exception to this statement. People who the general public refer to as “psychopaths” (Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc) are not really psychotic. People who are psychotic are no more prone to violence than non-psychotic people. They have as much right to freedom as anyone else.

      • Scout says:

        Perhaps violent psycopaths, and violent sociopaths then, ones who have committed a violent crime and thus forfeit their right to freedom

  3. Ana_ñ says:

    I am simply unable to find a single valid reason to support the death penalty nowadays, more than 60 years since the international declaration on human rights made its abolition a benchmark of a civilized society.

  4. MJ Valente says:

    (the Portuguese wife here)

    Yes, I do repudiate death sentences. Ideally, if they exist, they would *only* punish serial killers that show high degree of sadism and no regrets. And the jury/judge of that sentence could not be biased.

    Extra difficult, right? Almost impossible to happen. That’s the first reason I cannot endorse such punishment: biased judgement. Is in human nature to be biased.

    The other reason (connected with the first, I’m sure) has to do with my inability on accepting that someone can decide on the life and death of a person. It does not compute on my mind…

    In fact, nothing on the decision of life and death is easy. Ironically (or maybe not) I am a euthanasia supporter. I accept and defend it when certain conditions are met: terminally ill, in extreme pain or minimal quality of life through injury or illness. In a way I think human life is “sacred” (whatever that means), with the exception of when that life becomes physically unbearable for the living person.

    At the same time I find hard to accept most suicides. And, nonetheless, still I ask: the person who commits it, is she/he coward or courageous? I guess there are suicides and suicides.

    All this to say that human life and the possibility of deciding to terminate it is of extreme complexity. But in that complexity, when I read about situations like Troy Davis, I have no doubts: the people who denied him an unbiased judgement, the ones who condemned him to die disregarding any pleas or new proofs (who killed him), they are the criminal ones. In my ideal society they wouldn’t be allowed to have such political, legislative or ethnical responsibility. There are not up for the task ahead.

    I cannot understand people like Rick Perry and his cheerers. Heck, I don’t want to see them or hear them. I want to export them to Mars and pretend that we—humans—are better than that.

    Btw, William Blake was right (and that applies to all genders): “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.”

    Rick Perry breeds reptiles. (The bad, ugly imaginary ones, not the cute real reptiles.)

    • Scout says:

      I don’t think it odd at all the you would be against capital punishment and for euthanasia. One if condemning another to die for their crimes – an act of vengeance. The other is allowing one to choose death to end extreme suffering – an act of mercy. And if you read my earlier post, yes, I can reconcile with my conscience assisting someone with the latter.

  5. Jackie Miller says:

    What a great argument! Isn’t it amazing how we can keep growing all our life? Your description of your idealistic youth is so familiar-we always wanted things to be “fair”. Black and white was nice too, as I recall, but I started questioning the death penalty in my late teens.
    I also never dreamed that my belief in this inhumanity would have any effect on my voting choice 60+ years later. Keep growing!.

  6. Lilaine says:

    Well, I’m happy to see that my first instinctive reaction to the Perry thing was well founded… Ignoble et dangereux personage, s’il en est !

    Then, about death penalty, I was just one year too young for being able to vote for its abolition in France, in 1981. And I was so happy my compatriots were finally seeing the truth of it’s inefficiency and cruelty !

    BUT, the Justice system(everywhere, I’m afraid) is undeniably corrupted(in the ‘something’s wrong’ meaning) and inefficient to find a viable (and secure, for everybody) replacement to death penalty for the most horrible criminals who can’t (or won’t) be rehabilitated. There are a lot of them, and keeping them apart is increasingly costly. There aren’t enough prisons, or Psych Yards.
    And those who are supposed to be rehabilitated are freed for ‘good behavior’ : that’s why there are more and more recidivists…who could very well become murderers if the situation occurs.
    Were is the solution ??

    I’ve been reading a book lately, where it was said that women would make the best of leaders and warriors because they value the other’s lives more than the men do, and would rather find a non violent or lethal way to solve conflicts and do Justice, and would be merciful and compassionate .
    You could be a good Leader, Maria 🙂
    And don’t go destroy the Mars ecosystem !!

  7. M. says:

    Yes, I am with your wife here. I am happy that there is no death penalty in EU. Of course this is very complicated subject. I hope I will not repeat all arguments mentioned above that I second, but try to add some new ones to think about.

    I am wondering if our aversion to death penalty has some roots in European tragic history. After devastating experience of WWII we are reluctant to cause any more death, even to a killer who deserved it. This doesn’t mean we don’t feel sometimes that kiling some criminals is in order. But…

    If you ask me if Brevik deserves to die, I will say yes. If you ask me if I am ok that he won’t be sentenced to death, again I would say yes. Why? Because if even one innocent person was sentenced to death and killed by miscarriage of justice, then it would mean that the system was lame. And it had to be improved. The improvement means a system without a death sentence. For the sake of this one innocent person, I agree to let live these who should die.

    Also, death penalty is not only about punishment. It is also, or maybe it is above all, about prevention and protection. Everything should be done to prevent such crime happen in the future. Life-long isolation of a killer form society works as well as death sencence: they can’t harm anybody anymore.

    As wiki’s list of countries by intentional homicide rate shows, death penalty does not stop murderers from commiting a crime. What seems to stop them is efficiency in catching killers. I couldn’t find one nice source of data, but I was able to get some information, reliable I hope. In one of the safest countries in the world – Japan, it is said that the percentage of murder cases left unsolved is around 2%. So a killer KNOWS that s/he will end in a prison. The result? One of the lowest homicide rates in the world, thus no big need for death penalty. In my country – not as safe as Japan, but according to statisctics about as safe as, oh well, Portugal (ie safe :)) Police reports inform that the percentage of murder cases left unsolved is around 13%. You better check how it goes in the US. I could not find a data for the whole country, but had found an info, according to wchich Chicago has the highest unsolved murder rate in the US: 87%. If it’s true, it means that a killer most likely will be never caught and thus sentenced to death. So I imagine that they have no problem with taking this “minimal risk”. The statistic about succesful escapes from prisons might be interesting too… In this light the death penalty seems very unfair – a real failure in penal law, where everybody should be treated equally, yet while some murderers are sentenced to death, others walk free, because the law can’t even catch them.

    And finally there is a matter of effortless in causing a murder. Yes, I think about access to firearms. I believe a gun in your pocket can “give courage” to many hot-headed adolescents. Before they have a chance to think, they do something they will regret lately – kill a person. How many killers sentenced to death were really sorry for what they did in a moment of sheer stupidity?

    • oregon expat says:

      I do not disagree with any of your points, M., but would like to correct one possible misconception: Japan does, in fact, have the death penalty. (I was quite surprised to learn this when I started digging!)

      Since you used Chicago, Illinois as an example, I thought you might also be interested to know that the state of Illinois abolished the death penalty just this year. In fact, its death row shut down on the first of July.

  8. Ana_ñ says:

    >We kill them because we are convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they have committed a grievous crime.
    >Ideally, if they exist, they would *only* punish serial killers that show high degree of sadism and no regrets. And the jury/judge of that sentence could not be biased.

    Why? Why not to punish also child abusers or human traffickers, for instance? Because they don’t kill their victims? They ruin their lives. Or food speculators in the stock market: their profitable actions result in a fatal famine in the other side of the globe. Other countries consider that apostasy or adultery a grievous crimes deserving death penalty. Where do you put the limit? Kill them all.
    Or we can cut off the hands or physically disfigure the condemned, a bit less definitive than death.

    I am still unable to find a single merit of the death penalty. Of course, I agree with all the reasons you have given against it. Thank you for that.

    Yes, we must work with the only thing we have: a judicial system (hence human, hence fallible), and try to figure out the best way to build a more evolved society.

    • MJ Valente says:

      Well, I do think that sexual molesters (as long as well proved) should have much stronger penalties than what they have. At least in Portugal where some of the actual penalties seem like a joke. (Did you know that using hands and not a dick is less grievous? Yep. The judges can be as dumb as that.)

      Sometimes I have this strange feeling that the legislative system either goes to 80 or 8.

  9. xenatuba says:

    Interesting thoughts. I will chime in here, but first a little background: I am a police officer in Oregon. I have had fellow officers that are friends of mine murdered. I have investigated some crimes that I WILL NOT share the details as they are so gruesome as to prohibit their mention.

    There are people who cannot be REhabilitiated because they were never HABilitated in the first place. Response: early childhood care, education, support, prevention of drug abuse by teen parents, support for any parent who finds themselves overwhelmed by parenting.

    The death penalty is not a deterrant. It is the ultimate punishment and shoud be reserved for the most serious of offenders who should never be given the opportunity to murder other people. The intentional murder of a police officer, for some reason, is one of my personal reasons. Alas, the murder this spring of my close friend (a Eugene, OR motorcycle officer) was not commited by a reational person, and while I do not believe that she should be executed, I also do not believe that if she is found to be “unprosecutable” (which in a really brief definition is that she can’t even be found “guilty but insane) she should not be released after three years of evaluative confinement, either.

    I believe that the woman in Eugene who tortured her child to death should be executed. Period. I believe that the man in Medford, OR who killed his wife and two children by stabbing them, and setting the house of fire killing his other two children by smoke inhalation (his stabbing of them was not fatal) should be executed. Period. I do not believe that every person who murders should be executed, but I do believe that the state should have the ability to use the death penalty in certain, extreme cases. I do not have the answer for those crimes (sex trafficing (sp), sexual assault and the like that scar a person for life. I know that “back in the day” rape was a capital offense, but when it was applied in the hugely discriminatory way that it was (don’t have the stats, but OVERWHELMINGLY excuted were black men) that it was removed by most states as a capital crime.

    I believe that killing a criminal must be reserved for the exceptional circumstances, and realize that somtimes, it is about punishment and, yes, revenge. Google “Jannette Maples” if you’re curious.

    • oregon expat says:

      I googled. Horrifying. This is the part that stuck:

      Teachers were concerned about the girl’s treatment at her mother’s hands. The school confronted Maples, who told school officials that she was being abused. Oregon’s Department of Human Services visited the home, where Angela McAnulty told child welfare workers that Maples was a compulsive liar. Maples was left with McAnulty, who took the girl out of school…

      How many times have we heard that story? The underfunding, understaffing, and frequent incompetence of Child Protection Services is legend.

      Regarding your opinions: I respect them, understand where they come from, and shared them myself until very recently. If there were a way to make sure that no one was EVER executed by mistake, I’d still be in favor of capital punishment. But there isn’t. And those mistakes happen.

      Personally, I think life without possibility of parole, in a supermax prison, is an excellent alternative. It’s a miserable existence suitable for the most heinous of criminals, but there is still the possibility of correcting mistakes if they were made.

    • Inge says:

      I was not going to reply to this subject, though i do hold some strong views on it. But you actually helped me putting my feelings in words.. I’m not sure that is a necessary good thing, but here you go.

      First off, i hold policemen and women to a high standard. They have to uphold the law as it is, but also use common sense. Having said that, i would have a problem accepting your attitude to it.. First off, i don’t see why killing a policemen would result into dead penalty any more than any other killing. I value all human life equal. No exception.. none. Not even the most hideous criminal, not the bravest policemen. How can you value life? And if you can put value to individual lives.. than you believe in superiority of one against another. He killed a cop so his means less. He should be killed.. Very similar to what has been said here in Belgium about Jews during the nazi occupation. Again similar to the apartheid in South-Africa where the colour of your skin meant your life was worth less. (and yes it was the law that said that)
      I don’t and (probably) never will agree to this point of view. I value all human life equally. And i honestly expect all policemen and women to do the same. I know, you’re going to say that it can not be compared to the nazis or the apartheid at all. But honestly Hitler believed the Jews to be responsible for the death of Jesus (they committed a crime) and thus they had to be punished. In reality it is very similar.

      Secondly, there is always someone who actually has to act on it. You’ve created a state-sanctioned murderer. Seeing how many Iraq soldiers are coming back with mental problems from war and thus having to kill people, why would you open up people to get mentally ill? And if they don’t get problems from doing that.. It should make you wonder as to whom they are.

      Thirdly, the justice system has a two-fold mission. The first part is to bring justice. But it’s also meant to deter. It has been proven over and over again that dead penalty doesn’t deter much. It has been proven that using increasing force always increases the violence used by criminals. So there is no use for dead penalty in justice. Revenge and justice should never mix, as you claim. Revenge beckons revenge and there will be dreadful results. People will react when they no longer believe they are treated just.

      Lastly, because i can hear the reply: if they were your family or friends.. well i hope i never have to judge the criminal because it would be revenge but let’s be honest: it wouldn’t be justice. That is why the justice and police-system is supposed to be above and beyond revenge, and looking for the good of the whole of society, even humankind in the long run.

      And one final thing: i am sorry for your loss.

      • xenatuba says:

        Thank you for your well-thought and gentle response. I agree that police officers must be held to the highest standards, and I am dismayed and embarrassed when the public’s trust in us is damaged. (Google Roger Magana if you’re interested).

        Why I say the intentional murder of a police officer…I have made the choice to stand in front of the people to protect them from the predators of society, some of whom are much worse than others. You call for help and I will be there, and give you the best service I have to give on any given day. When a person decides that a policeman must die simply because they are a policeman, and for no other reason, that is where my opinion on the death penalty for the intentional murder of police officers comes from.

        I agree with your position on the justice system being above and beyond revenge; I am not sure that we as a species have evolved to that state. I see WAY too much of the less evolved members of our species to believe that we have arrived there yet and firmly believe that if this was anywhere close to being applied, that the predators in our midst would take extreme advantage of a system of justice that means nothing to them.

        • Inge says:

          I’m glad that you understood the intent of my writing. It’s always difficult to get across what you mean in writing (..well to me anyway).

          While i hold policemen and women to a high standard i’m not blind to the fact they are human after all. I don’t believe in cataloguing entire groups of people as such or such. So while there will (probably) always be bad elements in any group (including police-corps) i tend to look to the overall intent of a group. I firmly believe most policemen and women want the best and try their best. Which of course causes me to look at them with higher standards then for some others.

          And i understand why you have your position on the dead penalty for those that kill policemen/women. I really do. I’m employed in public service and we’re confronted with the same question for our security-personnel.
          But still to me, personally, there is no difference to someone that kills a doctor because he dared to perform an euthanasia (if that is the expression) or an abortion… or someone that kills because the other is gay/lesbian or…

          Your last point is extremely valid. I do think that predators will take advantage.. But why should we lower our point of view to theirs? I don’t know how many predators there are.. 1% of the population? Why lower 99% to that level?

          And thank you for this pleasant discussion. I love well thought out arguments that make one think about their own point of view.

          • xenatuba says:

            Me, too!! And I can appriciate the difference in perception for any homicide victim that is targeted because of what they do; abortion doctors in the U.S. being another form that are murdered ONLY because of what they do. My personal opinion about those suspects is that their religious fervor (usually stated as their reason) damn near makes them crazy.

            Percentage of predators? Very good question. Less than 1% I would guess, of the violent type. I suspect that there are some very wealthy folks in the U.S. that are more civilized predators, but have the same disreguard for common folk, they just don’t kill them. My wife and I were also discussing the U.S. and our addiction to violence that seems to be absent in European countries. I suspect that is a factor as well.

            I have so enjoyed this “conversation” in the most difficult of realms to really communicate (since we miss something like 93% of all the communication “tools”.

  10. JR says:

    This is an interesting discussion because although I’m anti-death penalty, it’s an instinctive, rather than reasoned, position, and I often wonder if I really should be holding to a position closer to Xenatuba’s. I’m against the death penalty because I don’t believe in death by proxy. It’s the same reason I’m a vegetarian. I grew up on a farm, hated slaughtering day with a passion, and am fairly certain I can’t kill my own food now (possibly a fish. I know I did it as a kid, but even that thought gives me the creeps today). If I’m not willing to kill it myself, I shouldn’t eat it. Ditto with the death penalty–if I’m not wiling to carry it out myself, I shouldn’t support it. So…anti-death penalty.

    Except that I occasionally find myself wondering if that’s a cop out position as well. We’ve had some fairly high profile deaths of college-age kids in our town–one murder, one death (turned out to be accidental, but at the time they thought it might have involved foul play), one disappearance (assumed murdered by a friend, but the case hasn’t been solved yet). I don’t know any of the parents of the victims personally, but it’s a small town, and they’re visible in the community. I could be sitting in a stadium of ten thousand people, and I can guarantee my eyes would snag on Mr. and Mrs. Behrman if they were anywhere in the crowd. Their daughter’s killer was tried and convicted, and he sits somewhere in prison, serving out his sentence. When I look at them I wonder–what do we own THEM as a community? We owe the criminal a fair trial, etc., but perhaps we owe the family–and everyone affected by the murder–just a bit more. If there was some emotional or psychological value to be gained by them through execution, am I being a coward in not providing the means to that relief? It’s horrible watching them suffer and I don’t even know them personally. Imagine if I did, the emotions would run that much higher. The parents with the son who died accidentally are changed people, even I can see that–imagine if he’d been murdered instead, how much worse it would have been.

    I’ve been thinking about it more specifically in the case of the Norway slaughter–how many people did that guy’s murderous actions affect? Even if he could be rehabilitated, does he deserve the chance? I’m not sure. I’m not willing to execute him myself, but… I see Xenatuba’s point. Is punishment necessarily a negative? Revenge is always styled as a negative, but there are cases, like the ones she cites that make me wonder if execution is the only way to allow the ancillary victims to reach a better place emotionally. (As an aside, I have to admit I grew up scared spitless of Ted Bundy, and up to the moment he was executed, worried that he would somehow break out of his Florida prison and return to the PNW and seek more victims. I was relieved when he was gone. Maybe wrong to feel that way, but still…relieved.)

    Anyway, it’s good to read multiple reasoned responses, on both sides of the issue. I’ll probably continue my waffling until the date of my own death.

  11. Lilaine says:

    The big question for me is :

    What we, as a society of human, sensitive, honest and equitable, responsible people(ohh! Utopia, here I am !!), are ready to do (as in to vote, pay for, contribute to, endorse, work hard for, change mentalities, improve educational programs(not only for the kids, but for the parents, too), build special prisons, make all imaginable efforts…) to make the death penalty a completely obsolete and useless sentence ?

    And a question to anybody who might qualify a murder as intentional : are you sure ?
    And another question to anybody who thinks the killer wasn’t in his/her right mind(for any reasonable cause, the defense lawyers know them all…) : is it a reason not to judge and sentence ? What of the victims and their families ?

    As for the grief and the suffering of those on the victims’ side, I’m not sure that the murderer’s death will actually bring them solace. I mean, if they were assured the killer will never ever be able to take another life while being locked out in a specialized detention place until death, that might help them cope with their loss. I believe only one thing could help them feel better : Pardon (or forgiveness in a non-religious way) and certitude the culprit is being punished, whatever punishment. That is, in the case when the real murderer is condemned, of course…
    Just imagine how they’d feel(how certainly some people have felt, ’cause it’s happenned a few times…) if someone is executed and it’s later proven they weren’t the killer…

    Many people have killed others believing they were doing the right thing, only to realize later they could have done otherwise… And others have killed by instinct, good or bad, or by accident, and spend the rest of their life sincerely regretting it. I wouldn’t like to be one of them, and I won’t deny them a chance at redemption.

    And there are those monsters who without any doubt nor regret kill(or abuse, torture, rape, attack) and again, and again, and will keep on until we stop them, by any means ! And those who survive those means must be disabled permanently !

  12. Sugel says:

    ….Texas executed an innocent man Cameron Todd Willingham on February 16 2004. Perry denied a stay of execution in the face of clear evidence that the alleged arson that Mister Willingham was accused of was a fabrication of junk science. Perry are questionable to me..Willingham was convicted and executed for the alleged arson that killed his three small children.

  13. Fletcher Ian says:

    I want to oppose the death penalty. I certainly am appalled at the Circus Maximum attitude some have toward it, the “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” deal.
    I think, though, in cases like Paul Bernardo, with Karla Homolka, Google it, I would pull the switch or give the needle myself. They had video taped themselves raping, torturing, two teen local girls for two weeks. One was found dismembered and encased in cement in Lake Ontario. my daughter was 8 or so at the time, but I’d have to say in cases like this, with evidence all over? I’d be pro death penalty. Not for most others. Karla Homolka is now out, married, with children in Quebec. Scares me.

    But I understand what you are saying, Fletcher, and I’ll think on it some more. As a Christian I’m supposed to be opposed to the death penalty. In 99% of the cases, I find I am opposed. Definitely don’t like the gleam in the eye and the frothing at the mouths of some lunatic fringe death penalty proponents.
    It’s late here, I hope that all made sense.

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